As children grow and face new challenges, it becomes increasingly important to make sure that they are dealing with adversity in positive ways. Coping skills help children deal with strong emotions like frustration and anger and allow them to overcome challenges in their lives. Coping skills can have long-lasting implications in a child’s life, so it is important that parents help their children develop healthy ones at an early age.
It can be easy to forget that children feel anxiety about many of the same things adults do. They feel anxious about the prospect of failing, and about the well-being of the ones they love.
They understand the tension adults feel when faced with financial difficulties, and they feel nervous and/or apprehensive when faced with challenging assignments, or when meeting new people. By giving your child tools to use in these situations, they will be able to navigate the stress of daily life in a sustainable and productive way.
Here are a few ways that you can foster healthy coping skills in your child:
Practice Deep Breathing with Your Child
It can sound basic, but deep breathing helps us relax our bodies. The biological benefits of taking deep, even breaths are proven: Deep breathing boosts the oxygen supply to our brains and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calmness. This gives your mind the assurance that it is safe, and reduces the “fight or flight” urge that occurs when humans encounter conflict.
Visualizations can help teach children how to breathe deeply. Try the following imagery to help children take deep, even breaths:
- “Breathe in like you’re smelling a flower”
- “Breathe out like you’re blowing out birthday candles”
- “Pretend your belly is like a balloon. Breathe in and make the balloon bigger, then breathe out and make the balloon shrink.
Give Your Child Words to Describe Their Feelings
Oftentimes, children lack the vocabulary to accurately describe how they’re feeling, and as a result, children turn to inappropriate or harmful ways of expressing their emotions, like shoving, hitting, or using unkind words. By giving children outlets to accurately express their emotions, they are able to release the tension they are feeling, and resolve their emotions in healthy and productive ways.
Use the following questions to help your child open up when they are experiencing strong emotions:
- “How are you feeling right now?” Offer the child the words to use, like mad, sad, frustrated, anxious, worried, or embarrassed.
- “Where are you feeling it in your body?” They may say their chest feels tight, their heart is racing or their head feels hot.
- “What do you think caused it?” Help the child think through what happened right before they got upset. You might be able to help the child see a different perspective or better understand what happened.
Identify the Activities that Soothe
When your child is experiencing a calm moment, take the opportunity to talk about the things that
he/she enjoys doing that help them when they feel upset. Make a list together and open up about some
of the things that you do to help yourself feel calmer! By seeing that you also experience frustration
and use healthy coping strategies, they are likely to do the same!
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Going for a walk or a bike ride
- Playing or listening to music
- Drawing or coloring
- Building something out of blocks
The most important thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are there for them and to keep your communication open. Model healthy coping skills for your child and let them know that is normal to feel strong emotions. By allowing your child to observe how you overcome challenging situations, they will have a model to emulate as they learn to overcome their own.